Iowa Hawkeyes Week 6 opponent defense outlook: Players to know for the Illinois Fighting Illini

The Iowa Hawkeyes are nearing an upcoming trip to Champaign, IL to take on the Illinois Fighting Illini this Saturday in Week 6 of the college football season. This border matchup within the Big Ten West has two programs each desperately wanting to take home the win in this, but for different reasons.

Iowa enters the matchup after a loss to the Michigan Wolverines last week that went a long way in showcasing why the Wolverines are a true College Football Playoff contender.

Illinois is coming off of an extremely impressive 34-10 win on the road at Wisconsin that shocked a lot of people. The Illini are confident under the Bret Bielema regime and looking to take that next step towards a bowl berth and Big Ten relevancy.

Illinois plays a stout defense, nearly as talented at the Hawkeyes are, and will rely heavily on them to keep this a low-scoring affair.

Illinois 2022 Statistics

Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

The Illini defense is no joke. Surrendering just 8.4 points per game through five games is quite the impressive feat. The Iowa offense will have to be efficient against a stout group.

Their defense allows just 70 rushing yards per game and 159 passing yards per game. These stats do get help from games against Wyoming and Chattanooga, but they are still outstanding numbers, nonetheless.

The Illini have reeled in eight interceptions this far on the season. Iowa will need to protect the ball and stay ahead of the chains. Second and third downs behind the chains will be tough sledding.

Keith Randolph Jr. & Jer'Zhan Newton, DL

Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Keith Randolph Jr. is doing it all for this defense. He leads the Illini in total tackles (27), tackles for loss (6.5), and sacks (3). The 6-foot-5 defensive lineman even has an interception. Handling Randolph is a must for the Hawkeyes up front.

Jer’Zhan Newton is another anchor up front. He is second in total tackles (26) and tackles for loss (4.5), while being tied with Randolph for sacks. The Illini front is held down by two strong forces.

Kendall Smith, DB

Mark Hoffman / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK
Mjs Uwgrid01 1 Jpg Uwgrid01

Kendall Smith is not overly active in the run game defense for the Illini as the defensive back has just nine total tackles on the season. While he may not be providing force in the run game, he makes up for it in his coverage. Smith leads the Illini with three interceptions on the season.

Iowa will have to complete downfield passes against Illinois, just as they did against Michigan, to move the ball. Smith roaming the middle of the field needs to be a key read for Spencer Petras.

Jartavius Martin, DB

Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

What doesn’t Jartavius Martin do? He is second on the team with 26 tackles, has 2 tackles for loss, 7 pass breakups, a sack, and an interception. He plays the run for the Illini, he can drop back into coverage and find a way to make plays, he does a lot of things for this defense.

Isaac Darkangelo, LB

Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

In the middle of the Illinois defense in linebacker Isaac Darkangelo. He is a force at the second level playing behind the stout defensive front of the Illini. Darkangelo is third on the team in tackles.

Darkangelo spent his first two season at Northern Michigan University prior to joining the Illini and this season has been his coming out party. Should Iowa see success on the ground, getting to him on the second level will be crucial.

Contact/Follow us @HawkeyesWire on Twitter, and like our page on Facebook to follow ongoing coverage of Iowa news, notes, and opinions.

Follow Riley on Twitter: @rileydonald7

Let us know your thoughts, comment on this story below. Join the conversation today.

Story originally appeared on Hawkeyes Wire